CHOCOLATE CITY -Joe Johnson learned a long time ago the value of a good poker face.
But when I asked him what he thought of all the trades before, on and during NBA draft day, his smile turned into a an eyebrow-raised stare.
“People aren’t playing around right now,” he told me Friday in a hallway outside of a conference room at the Hawks’ downtown headquarters. “I don’t know what’s gotten into everybody.”
Johnson better hope that the spirit to move has hit the Hawks as well with free agency just a couple of days away. Because life in the Eastern Conference playoff chase is going to be tougher than it was a year ago.
(Oh, and sorry for the delay on the new blog boys and girls, but I had a previously planned family gathering here in D.C. that could not be avoided.)
“I’ve been keeping up with every move that’s been made,” Johnson said. “The Eastern Conference has gotten a lot better before free agency even started. We’ve just got to do whatever we have to do whatever we can do to try and take ourselves to another level. Right now we’re making footsteps in the right direction and we just have to keep moving forward.”
Johnson said he’s heard about all the rumors involving the Hawks (Josh Smith’s latest is that he’s going to be sent to the Phoenix in some sort of package exchange for Amare Stoudemire, Mike Bibby’s not coming back according to all the experts now that Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague have been added, etc.). And he’s not buying any of it.
“I understand we don’t really know what’s going to happen in free agency,” Johnson said. “We never do. But this is a business, man. And this is the tough part, the rumors and all the talk. It’s just something we have to deal with. But this is the important thing people need to remember, we’ve gotten better every year with this group. That’s not easy to do. So that means by the time training camp rolls around we need to have hung out, worked out and done everything else it takes prepare ourselves. It’s all business when training camp comes around, because we have to be ready to not only match what we did last year but do better than that. And it’s going to be tough.”
MORE TO THE POINT, and that’s really the one question people have been asking me over and over again since draft night, in it’s various manifestations. Do we keep Bibby? What about Flip? Do we need that many point guard, and won’t they stunt the growth of the young fella?
Before the draft I had a short list of potential point guards (starters or backups depending on what happens with Bibby). By Friday morning I started rethinking the need for the list, what with two new bodies at the position in Crawford and Teague.
Then something crazy happened.
And I expected to see some crazy stuff during my trip here to Obama City, and of course, I did exactly that. From people watching on my way out of Reagan Airport to the hordes of tourists making their way in and out of the monuments and other venues, there’s never a shortage of interesting things to see.
So Saturday afternoon while my Pops and I were cutting through a backdoor to the Renaissance Washington DC Hotel (on 9th near C’town and my favorite spot to stay in this city) we saw Milwaukee Bucks restricted free agent point guard Ramon Sessions relaxing while talking on a cell phone on a patio. Had he not been in the middle of a conversation and had we not been trying to hustle off to where we were going, I’d have interrupted him and checked with him his future plans.
It ate me up the rest of the day. I wondered if this was a sign or something. What are the chances I’d see Sessions (or any of the other young point guards that highlighted my short list) during my first 12 hours here?
For a half-second, just a half, i thought someone was pulling a prank on me. I try and escape from the frenzy for a few days with the fam and who do I see on the patio outside of the Starbucks in the hotel but a restricted free agent NBA point guard that we’ve been talking about around here for weeks now (fine, I admit that’s a bit melodramatic, but … well, you had to be there).
AS FOR A POINT GUARD CERTAIN TO BE ON THE HAWKS’ ROSTER in training camp, Teague will be an interesting cat to cover.
For a guy that swore he was nervous on his first face-to-face dealing with the local press, it didn’t show. Teague’s got the perfect temperament for his new job.
He’s also looking forward to one of the perks of living life on a NBA salary. Teague said he’s looking foward to getting a car. “I’ve never really had my own car,” he said. “It was like a 1988 Toyota Camry. The rest of my friends had cars in the 2000s. I went to Wake Forest and there I am riding around in my ‘88 Camry that’s not looking to good.”
Teague’s car search will be easier than most. He won’t need a ride to the Range Rover lot either.
“I’m a cheap guy, so I’ll try and go with one of those [Dodge] Challengers or something like that,” he said, ” That’s one of those that looks good but doesn’t cost too much.”
The bigger question for the Hawks is how much is too much to pay for Bibby?
That’s also a question that we can only speculate about between now and Wednesday.
FINDING THE RIGHT ANSWERS IN THE FRONTCOURT WON’T BE NEARLY AS EASY. Restricted free agent bit men aren’t allowed to disappear from the roster as easily as they might a player at another position.
There are only a handful of quality big men on the open market (free of restrictions. The Marcus Camby deal and others like it for quality big men, requires the Hawks pulling off a sweet deal with precious few tradable assets to work with).
Since my point guard short list was shredded on draft day, I figured now was as good a time as any to toss this out there (listed alphabetically and keep in mind that all four of these guys are unrestricted free agents):
Chris Andersen, Denver, PF/C – Size, check. Energy, check. Shot-blocking ability, check. I know this isn’t the Andersen you might have been thinking of adding to the roster (from what I’m hearing, David doesn’t seem likely to be on the Hawks’ roster when training camp opens). But the Birdman is a specialist the like of which the Hawks haven’t had in quite some time. He’s probably going to cost a little bit more than the Hawks are used to spending on specialists, but he might be worth the financial sacrifice.
Antonio McDyess, Detroit, PF – McDyess is still chasing that elusive NBA championship ring. Maybe he’s changed and is ready to tackle the task of helping a team like the Hawks reach for that big trophy. Adding intrigue to his summer is his relationship with Hawks coach Mike Woodson.
Joe Smith, Cleveland, PF – This isn’t exactly a home run move, but if you’re in need of a quality big, a veteran big, Smith would have to be vetted for the job. He’s become one of the league’s more reliable journeyman bigs. And not only will he play physically, he’ll knock down shots and sacrifice his body for as long as it takes.
Rasheed Wallace, Detroit, PF/C – The toughest sell on the list, Wallace isn’t going to come for cheap. He wants a sizable contract, one that the Hawks might not be interested in giving to an aged talent whose desire has been questioned by some. But he, too, has a good relationship with Woodson, which could potentially open the door long enough for the Hawks to get in the mix.
TWITTER ME THIS, TWITTER ME THAT …
We’ve officially set up an after hours spot for this blog on Twitter (where the free agency updates will be shorter and more frequent, depending on what’s going on). Dig in for free agency folks, it should be bonkers.